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Emergence (Concertverse)
- Chapter 17

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Ripples on the Water, Far[]

Planning in the Celestial Palace[]

Celestial Palace
Imperial City, Wuhan Continent
Sian, Sian Commonality
Oriento-Capellan Empire
4th November, 3142

For many centuries it was known as the Forbidden City.  The Capital of the Capellan Confederation and its capital world Sian, from which the Chancellors of House Liao governed their disparate peoples united under the Capellan identity.

Then the collapse came.  The Succession Wars broke the Capellan Confederation as they did the other Great Houses.  When the dust settled and the disparate worlds and surviving governments were no longer answering to House Liao, the isolated throne world lapsed to the control of the interstellar communications company ComStar, effectively placing the Liaos under Terran rule.  The Forbidden City became a tourist trap for wealthy Terrans to come and gawk at while the Liaos watched and fumed at the repudiation of everything they built.

Perhaps that is why my great-grandfather renamed the city after conquering it.

Such was the thought of the prim-suited man looking out over it from a protected balcony deep in the palace grounds.  From his office balcony, Emperor Robert Halas-Liao surveyed the breadth of the Imperial City, so-named by his predecessor Emperor Jonah Allison-Liao when he relocated to the old Capellan capital.  Name aside, Robert looked rather more European-descended than East Asian, with a fair amount of Russian ancestry from his mother.

For a hundred years now, they were the closest thing the Capellan people had to a reborn House Liao, the result of generations of effort to reconcile the Allisons to governing Capellan worlds captured before and during the collapse.  They'd spent years and plenty of effort to connect House Allison, and now House Halas-Liao, to the glories of the past.

And yet, all that the Allisons did to acclimate to the Capellan people while ruling Harsefeld — given they were the former ruling family of Oriente — Jonah never let the past govern the present or future so totally as to not change things.  His vision made the Empire what it is.

Robert turned away from the sight, and the nearby portrait of his progenitor.  Getting caught up in thoughts of what the late Emperor would say or do in his stead could be useful mental exercise at times, as were considerations of his actions, but Robert had his own thoughts on such things.  He would not be governed by the expectations of a dead man… or, for that matter, a living woman.

The ancient, wizened figure on his holotank was well over a hundred and thirty years old, which was why she'd spent the last forty years in the confines of her palace on Oriente.  The very limits of modern medical science kept the Dowager Empress Eris Halas alive, although at times it felt more like her continued survival was based more on the power of spite.  Robert wondered if the spite was toward the scheming relatives who tried to assassinate her one hundred and ten years ago, or spite towards the very idea of death.  Whatever kept her going she remained a political force he had to reckon with.  To this day she commanded respect in the Oriente portion of the Empire, even though she'd stepped down well over thirty years ago to allow her grandson, Robert's father Gregory, to rule the Empire.

And Father promptly led us into the hell of the Fourth Succession War.

The old woman's expression was quiet, reserved… and clearly seething.  "The Proctors are always grasping." she said, her voice a hoarse whisper.  "There will be no lasting peace with them we do not enforce with our strength."

"So you say.  I am not a naive child, Grandmother, and I am well aware of the forces in Nathaniel's government that would push for war with us.  It makes encouraging his peace offers all the more important while we finish our armament programs."

"Were you simply suggesting that I would not be so concerned, Robert."  Eris drew in a breath, as she often did after a long sentence.  "But these force reductions you speak of would leave the border dangerously undermanned.  It is weakness they will exploit."

"I see you are as well-informed as ever." he said candidly.  I really must have Intelligence see about restricting her access.

A dangerous glint formed in her eye.  "You forget how many of this Empire owe their power, their position, to me, child.  Nothing remains hidden from me."

"You needn't remind me.  So, I imagine you are demanding I retract the promise to withdraw the 2nd Allison Heavy Guards from New Olympia?"

"The Proctors have sought New Olympia for a century, it must not be left undefended."

"Warrior House Aquila remains, as does Duchess Tabot's personal brigade.  It is hardly exposed and vulnerable.  The 2nd Heavy Guards will be of greater value to Imperial security as a reserve force."

She was clearly not convinced, but Robert suspected this was about more than troop dispositions.  If the Dowager of Oriente was known for anything — and she was known for many things — it was her hatred of House Proctor for the insult delivered to her at the coronation of Sara-Marie Proctor as the first High Queen of the Federation.

It was a story he'd grown up hearing, often.  Eris, Grand Duchess of Oriente at the time and newly-wed to Jonah Allison-Liao the co-ruler of Harsefeld's Royal Protectorate, had gone to attend that coronation.  It was not the crowning of a new ruler but the ceremonial transformation of the old Arcadian Free March into its new, larger federated form, and Eris considered herself on a mission of peace and friendship to Sara-Marie's court upon her rise from March-Princess to High Queen.

As it would turn out, the Proctors and their Lyran allies had already decided on joining the Second Andurien War against Oriente and Harsefeld, yet behaved as if they were friends until the very last moment.  Eris departed Arcadia believing in friendship with the state even as the armies of the newly-reformed Royal Federation launched a wide-ranging invasion of Oriente and Harsefeld-held worlds.  The Proctors had slapped away her hand to steal her worlds.

Or so, that was how the story went.

And after all this time, her grudge burns still.  Perhaps it is that grudge that sustains her.  If every Proctor died, she might just drop dead herself.  "If you wish more, Grandmother, I am not concerned about Arcadian aggression.  They have their hands full with this Atocongo anomaly."

"I have heard the rumors, but I remain skeptical."

"I was until I saw the holovids," he said while Eris drew in another breath.  "This 'Looking Glass' was confirmed by Mask sources in the Communal League.  The Arcadians already sent two brigades and a regimental combat team through to secure the other side, and have engaged in hostilities with some barbarian culture on the other end called the Clans."

"I was not aware of such."

He fought a grin.  Your information network is not perfect, especially among the Capellan side of the Empire. He could always rest assured that the Maskirovka, at least, were not easily suborned by the Dowager.  "I think it in our best interest to encourage High King Nathaniel to reinforce the portal, and I'd think you would too.  The more troops he has up there, the fewer he has to menace New Olympia and the Sirian Commonality."

Eris made no immediate remark to that.  "Agreed. What are you doing about learning more?  The Proctors may turn this portal to their advantage.  If they tap the wealth of the Lyrans on the other end, their strength will grow too greatly.  We must know if these Clans can restrain them."

"For the time being traffic is too controlled, but they are admitting a Lyran envoy.  We will learn what we can when she arrives on Arcadia," Robert assured her.

"Good."  Eris' eyes slightly shifted, as if looking away on her end.  "It appears I am out of time.  I should be thankful, I suppose, that you take time in your busy schedule to speak to me."  The speaking forced her to take another deep breath.  "You would rather I was dead, of course."

"At your age, Grandmother, life itself must be a daily burden." Robert replied diplomatically, although he certainly didn't refute the idea (since that would be a lie and both of them would know it was).

The cackle that came from her throat almost sounded like a death rattle.  "Don't let that silver tongue get you into trouble, boy." With that admonition the line connecting Sian to Oriente terminated.  Their talk had lasted ten minutes, and cost the Imperial treasury enough money to buy a company of BattleMechs.  The cost was worth it, though, if just to give Robert forewarning if Eris was planning anything.  I will have to ensure the forces on the border are being checked, should she try some 'preemptive' measure.

Robert settled into his office chair.  It would be so much easier if she finally passed on, he decided.  For too long, Dowager Empress Eris' authority influenced the direction and policy of the Empire, or so he felt.  But she had love from the peoples of both halves, and besides that, she was still family.  He could no more do something about her continued living than he could order the Mask to perform enhanced interrogation on his damned willful daughter Xiaoli.

Still, I do need to see about vetting the information she's getting.  With that in mind he checked his own latest updates.  The incoming Lyran envoy had a name: "Lady Trillian Steiner-Davion".  It seems the other side has its own marriage alliances.

But there was a more important piece of information on his secured noteputer, straight from the Imperial University of Sian's College of Advanced Physics.

Upon analysis of data provided and Professor Whateley's public papers, we conclude it is likely that the incident is repeatable, moreover, that it might be done intentionally and with the existing resources of the Empire.  Further tests will confirm the matter.

Robert read that line and grinned softly.  Should this 'Looking Glass' be a boon for the Royal Federation, it will prove one for the Empire as well…

House Davion reaction to the Looking Glass[]

Davion Palace
Avalon City, New Avalon
Crucis March
Federated Suns (Farside)
5th November, 3142

The weather in the capital was pleasant enough for a walk in the Royal Gardens, giving First Princess Grace Silver-Davion the excuse she needed to get away from the Court and its squabbling.  She was still in her white, red, and gold robes of state, the seal of the Federated Suns prominent over the heart and on the clasp of her sun-gold cape, when she stepped out into the warmth and took in the scent of the blooming flowers.

Now nearly eighty years of age, Grace had a life-time of memories here.  She remembered the Gardens as a small child, when she was a carefree, feisty redheaded girl of a few years who played hide and seek with her father and maternal grandfather.  John Silver, ex-pirate that he was, delighted in her youthful craftiness (as had her other grandfather, the legendary Long Tom Silver, while he was still alive), and First Prince Ian Davion found her antics a refreshing reprieve from the duties of state he was burdened with.  The 3060s, the first decade of her life, were the happy days.

The more painful memories came later, in 3070 and 3071, when she spent her days sheltered from the overpowering Concord invasion that threatened to capture House Davion's homeworld.  Those terrible days taught her about death, including seeing her wounded grandfather Prince Ian breathe his last.  After months in the bunkers under Mt. Davion she'd come back to see the gardens a ruin, and even when the gardeners finished replanting everything and the flowers bloomed again, it never felt quite right.

At the rustle of leaves from a nearby tree, her blue eyes snapped over to the sight of an elderly man in a green AFFS uniform.  "Sneaking up on me, Eric?" she asked her husband.

He shook his head.  "With those cat reflexes of yours?  Perish the thought."  Eric Sandoval had once possessed a head of dark brown hair that was now quite gray, much as her white hair was once red, although he kept it in the familiar style of the Sandovals with the top-knot .  An exile from childhood when the forces of the Concord drove his family from their ancestral home of Robinson, he'd been married to Grace to reinforce Davion claims to the old capital of the Draconis March.  While she'd spent her service in the Navy, he'd become a MechWarrior and fought through the decade-long failed effort to reclaim his homeworld.  "Minister Bao did ask me to see to you.  The Court is looking for your decision."

"About the New Vandenburg riots?"

"Those too, yes," he said.  "The commander of the Presidency's militia is asking for permission to call in 'more reliable' units."

Grace drew in a heavy sigh.  She wanted to go ring the neck of both Premier Carl Morales, the civilian leader of the Presidency of New Vandenburg whose corruption forced her to act in the first place, and that stiffnecked General Sallinger for calling out the Militia on the protestors supporting Morales.  "That would only excite the Taurians to greater resistance.  No, for now we allow the courts to work the process.  As troublesome as they are, they are citizens of the Federated Suns, and we'll never win them over by trodding on them whenever we feel like it."

"I'll let him know," Eric replied helpfully.  "If only to keep you from strangling any of them."  At her sardonic glare, he laughed.  "Grace, I can tell when you want to tear someone apart.  You always get that look in your eye."

"If only they were so easily scolded as my boys and girls on the Temeraire," Grace said.  She let her memories carry her back to her proud ship, one of the flag vessels of the Federated Suns Navy.  "You sure there isn't a reporter whose head I might conveniently rip off?  Metaphorically."  The last word has a slight emphasis, as if to reassure Eric she would not actually do the deed.

Eric laughed.  "Afraid not.  And Bao needs an answer on the… other matter."

"You mean the one that is getting everyone's knickers in a twist.  The revelation that reality isn't what we thought it was?"  Grace shook her head.  "All those years of jumping from star to star, never knowing I might end up in the wrong Inner Sphere?"

"Doctor Sato is insistent that it's not so simple, Grace, that lone ships won't make such a jump.  But we won't know for sure how it works, not until we test."

"And just hope we don't tear another hole in reality."  She met his eyes.  "Do you think we should do this, Eric?  Be honest."

"Well." He shrugged.  "There's so much we might learn.  And with the Arcadians getting involved on the other side, well, the genie's out of the bottle, isn't it?  A second Inner Sphere could mean better trade possibilities.  More allies if we ever have to fight the Concord or the Empire again.  So it is something to consider.  At the very least we might understand more about what caused the rift to form."

"Hrm." She turned from him and looked over at a set of blooming lavender flowers.  They were much the same as her grandfather once planted every year in memory of her grandmother, Maria VonLees, who'd died when Terran 'Mechs attacked the Palace during their invasion of New Avalon.  She remembered the pain in his eyes, though as a child she hadn't been aware that was what it was.  He'd done everything to protect the rest of them from that pain, even when he'd become the cause of it.  She had a similar obligation to protect the Federated Suns and ensure it remained strong.

So much for a quiet hour in the garden.  She looked towards the door inside.  "Limited testing, simulators and minor test jumps.  I won't go blowing holes into reality unless we absolutely must."

"Sounds reasonable to me."  He offered his arm.

Without a word she took it and left the garden with him.

The Dragon dreams of glory[]

Unity Palace
Imperial City
Luthien, Pesht Military District
Draconis Combine (Farside)
8th November, 3142

The four beings who entered the ornate room with its pillars of varying material and color were very powerful men and women.  Each controlled the destinies of many billions of people in the worlds they governed, ordered about their own segments of the Inner Sphere's largest military force, and could with a single word end the life of even the wealthiest beings under their authority.  They, to varying extents, did not like one another, for their own varied reasons, but here especially they could not fight; indeed, could not fight without great care anywhere, because that offense might lead to their death.

Because, for all the powers they wielded as the Warlords of the Draconis Combine, the four Tai-shu still answered to a higher authority.  The highest authority.

That authority entered their midst in ceremonial robes of state, a man in his early forties known and feared as Yorinaga Kurita, whose one organic eye was supplemented by a cybernetic enhancement used to replace the eye he lost in battle against the Kilbourne Concord at the end of the 4th Succession War.  He was clean-shaven, his hair cut in formal Japanese style, and he moved with the poise of a practicing MechWarrior.  The mantle of the Coordinator of the Draconis Combine sat upon his broad shoulders with the gold-rimmed seal of the Combine — a coiled black dragon on a red field — shining in the lights of the Reception Hall.  They each bowed fully at the waist to their ruler who returned the bow with a slighter one of his own.  To either side stood members of the Order of the Black Dragon, the defenders of the Combine and enforcers of the Coordinator's will.  Each and every member of the Black Dragons swore oaths of the highest weight to never permit the Dragon to be felled again, no matter the cost.  They were clad in red armor suits with the black dragon crest over their hearts, the suits crafted to resemble the modern equivalent of samurai armor.  Each carried a pulse rifle, sidearm, and a blade for their bloodiest work.

The Coordinator lowered himself onto his sitting mat, prompting the others to join him, save his standing bodyguards.  Yorinaga took in the sight of his four warlords.  Tai-shu Hadeo Kurita was his uncle, the brother of his late father Hidetada, and commanded the Pesht Military District.  Next to Hadeo was Tai-shu Soong Pak Rhee of the Tok Do Military District and Tai-shu Mitsuki Honda-Sakamoto of Galedon's Military District.  The last, and the one he typically harbored the greatest reservations over, was Tai-shu Katarina Takeda-Suvorovna.  As a young woman Katarina was the last independent ruler of the Hartshill Federal Alliance before surrendering to his mother Kori and becoming part of Galedon's Mutual Co-Prosperity Sphere, the egg from which the Combine was hatched into new life.  The agreement by which Hartshill's capable military strength was preserved and turned over whole to Galedon, including the 'Mech regiments and WarShips that let Kori Honda defy every neighbor at the same time during the 4th Succession War, stipulated that House Takeda-Suvorov would remain in power in Hartshill.

That agreement was still in force, but the ISF repeatedly noted the failure of Tai-shu Takeda and her subordinates to cooperate with certain directives.  More to the point, Katarina was shrewd like many of her line, and Yorinaga long suspected she might have played a role in his treacherous cousin Musashi Honda's rebellion in the Vega Prefecture.  She might have even had a hand in his parents' death, although the ISF was still certain that had been an accident.  She would bear further watching, and careful handling, as Hartshill's economic and industrial strength was necessary to power the expansion of the DCMS to meet Yorinaga's long-term goals.

But that was all for another time.  He had other, more urgent affairs.  This meeting was the kind that took months to arrange, even if command circuits ensured the Warlords could assemble in weeks.  Initially Yorinaga intended to use it to prepare for the ongoing Outworlds conflict, and maybe a new effort to wrest Alpheratz and Quatre Belle from the Concord.  But events among the Lyran states now overshadowed that matter.

"You have heard of the strange events in the Lyran systems," he said to them.  It was not a question.

"Yes, Coordinator," said Tai-shu Rhee.  As the Vega Prefecture was within the Tok Do District, he was the most responsible for matters involving the Lyrans.  "A force attending war games in the Rim Worlds systems made a misjump into what they say is another Inner Sphere, creating a permanent portal linking our Inner Sphere to the other."  While he certainly had the others' attention, their silence prompted Rhee to continue in his accented English.  "There the Arcadians and their Ghastillian lapdogs fought strange foes called the Falcons and the Horses.  These 'Clans' fell to their forces due to surprise.  We have learned that reinforcements were already sent through the portal, and other units are in readiness to join them."

"Then we have opportunity," remarked Hadeo.  "A chance to strike at the Arcadians and the traitor Musashi Honda's forces."

Rhee nodded.  "Tai-sho Ballymont has already requested permission to attack Arcturus, to either draw the traitors out or cause dissension among the Proctors' vassals.  The 5th Sword of Light, the 3rd and 5th Legions of Vega, and the 10th Tok Do Regulars are ready to commence an attack."

"That would leave Vega defenseless," noted Tai-shu Honda.

"There would be forces sufficient to hold until reinforcements from Pesht and Tok Do arrive," Rhee said.

She was not so easily dissuaded.  "And what of my planned campaign?  I was promised troops from Pesht and Tok Do."

Rhee snorted.  "Another six months and we will have nothing to show, but damaged 'Mechs and more rubble.  Let the Concord strike as they will in the area, we will defend with ease."

"It may not just be the Concord."  Katarina spoke the words with careful deliberation.  "Too large of an attack may be considered a violation of the Peace of Dieron.  We may trigger a wider war with this strike.  It would be best to know the entire realm is ready for the resumption of hostilities."

Rhee glowered at his counterpart.  Katarina barely passed him a glance of acknowledgement, keeping her eyes on Yorinaga.  Her words, while true, irked him greatly.  His mother only agreed to the Peace once it was clear her forces were too broken to hold any longer.  Her remaining gains were thus secured, but it meant a number of worlds had to be relinquished.

Yorinaga wanted greatly to regain those worlds and more, and every year waited patiently for the signs the Peace of Dieron had run its course.  Until it had, until he secured enough support to challenge it from other powers — powers willing to accept the Dragon's inevitable victory — caution had to be the watchword.  He could not afford to repeat his mother's mistakes.

"What is the Dragon's wish?" Hadeo asked of Yorinaga.

Yorinaga considered the matter.  More to the point, he considered how his reply should be worded.  Once he was certain he spoke in prepared lines.

"The Dragon beholds
The Hawk's flight through the mirror
With quiet patience."

The four Warlords all nodded.  "The Dragon's will is clear."  Hadeo bowed his head.

"The Dragon trusts his servants to carry it out."  With that statement Yorinaga stood.  They did so as well and again bowed at the waist to him.  He returned the bow with a slight one and, together, they departed.  He would meet with them later, individually, to arrange military matters and economic affairs to his desires.  The time was not yet right to attempt a wider effort against the Azami, Rasalhague, or the Concord, and it may even fall on his son Tadakatsu to lead the Dragon to further victories and conquests.  The intervening time demanded careful handling of the ambitions they and their districts harbored.

Katarina was the last to step out, after giving him a final glance.  He suspected she wanted to discuss matters, most likely the demands that were being placed on her worlds' industries and populace.  I will deal with her and her obstinate followers one day.

For the time being he had other matters awaiting them, including the meeting with several leading scientists of the Imperial Institute of Science and Technology that his staff had already arranged.  There was always the possibility that the other side of this "mirror" the Arcadians accidentally created would provide them opportunities, and that could not go unchallenged.  We must put our finest minds to the problem.  This Looking Glass must either be shattered… or duplicated.

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